Cherishing the Earth: How to Care for God's Creation
Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson
Monarch Books, 2008
254 pp £8.99
US edition: 978 0 8254 6275 7
Books on the environment from a Christian perspective are a bit like buses. You can wait for ages for one to come along and then along come several all at once. This is one of them. The others published in late 2007 and 2008 include: Serve God Save the Planet by J. Mathew Sleeth, Planetwise by Dave Bookless, Christianity, Climate and Sustainability by Nick Spencer and Robert White, Saving Planet Earth by Colin Russell and Living with the Planet by Catherine Von Ruhland. All of them are written at a popular level.
This is a very British book, a gentle book that is irenic in style. It is very Anglican - and in this lies its strengths and weaknesses. Even when controversial issues are broached it is done in a sane way. For example, they are old earth - but of the opinion that the age of the earth is irrelevant in whether or not we care for it; they are theistic evolutionists, but are quick to point out that 'all Christians, whatever their views on origins will concede that our Earth originates with God and is rightfully his' (p. 92). On nuclear power: 'I do not feel comfortable with nuclear power, but I have a strong suspicion that we may need it.'
Occasionally the dualistic language grates: 'I hope to answer some of the spiritual questions that Christians might bring' p. 14,and they write of the '... supernatural effects of the fall in creation' p. 56. It's not a great start when the authors seem to adopt an independence view of science and religion and fail to see that all of life is spiritual - not just the theological bits. However, the message of the book is an important one: we urgently need to know how to care for God's creation.
It is a good introductory book, but they do skirt over some of the tricky biblical issues. For example, the two words translated as subdue (kabash) and rule (radah) in Genesis 1 are strong words - they don't seem to convey the connotation of care. Kabash is elsewhere translated as rape (Esther 7:8) and Westermann has translated radah as "to tread out the wine press" and von Rad as "trample". This can not simply be dismissed by describing it as 'a command to interact with nature and aid its fruitfulness' (p. 29) without further understanding of context and linguistics.
Sometimes the book reads like a patchwork quilt, the scientific and the biblical patchworks are attempted to be tied mosaic-like together. Sometimes this works at other times it jars. Often it gives the impression that 'spirituality' is an icing on the cake rather than the leaven for the whole cake.
'Climate scepticism' is briefly dealt with by reference to N Oreskes's Science 306 article. They are convinced that 'human induced climate change is real, and needs our urgent attention at all levels...' p. 61.
Chapter 5 looks at the 'seeds of history', this is a broad-brush overview of green Christian history and it inevitably oversimplifies. They rightly maintain that individuals can make a difference (ch 6) and highlight some things that can be done. One inspiring example is a Green semi in Oxford (see here for details). Transport and food are also examined in this chapter.
Chapter 7 looks at 'Caring communities' and what can be done through community involvement. Again a number of helpful case studies are included. In Chapter 8 on leadership - Job is used as an example of farming; Joseph as an example of climate care and Moses as a leader of change. Here they examine what effective leadership can do as well as take a look at energy and transport issues. Chapter 9 turns from local into global issues including debt, climate change and development. In chapter 10 'Dreams and visons' GM foods and international environmental agreements and reports are examined. Christian initiatives such as the impact of the Climate Forum 2002 which involved the Hodgsons and its effect on Richard Cizik are discussed. It was this forum that was instrumental in Cizik's 'conversion experience' to green issues. Cizik was vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals in the States and has been instrumental in 'climate care'.
The final chapter looks briefly at the fate of the earth - a crucial issue for Christians - they conclude that it will be renewed not destroyed. But even if God does destroy it, this does not mean we should not protect what we presently have' (p. 202).
The strength of the book is that both authors write from complementary perspectives and we are provided a binocular vision of a number of important issues - they are strong on individual and group involvement at the grassroots level. However, there is little encouragement for Christians to get involved with politics - no sense that we can serve God in doing politics. Many of the issues require political change as well as the need for a grassroots movement.
The authors are obviously passionate about the environment; but unfortunately, it's not often that that passion comes through in the pages of the book. They are pragmatist rather than idealists - but perhaps that is not such a bad thing.
For me the highlight of the book was a brief discussion of rest - part of the jubilee and sabbath legislation. Environmental degredation means a loss of rest for many. Deforestation means that women and children have to go much further to find fuel for their fires - this results in a loss of rest. Sabbath should mean a rest for all not merely rest for the powerful at the expense of the poor (pp158-160): 'We need to act to implement Sabbath as a justice principle for our global community' (p. 160). As far as I'm concerned this section is worth the price of the book alone.
There are 24 pages of notes, 4 pages of useful websites and a 7 page index, but unfortunately, no bibliography.
It provides a useful introduction to light green thinking for Christians and one that could, because of its gentle tones, usefully be given to your local green-sceptic vicar.
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The book has an accompanying website.